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Cybercriminals use 'bots' to scam

What it is: A botnet is a network of compromised computers -- usually, home computers with a broadband connection. Computers can get hijacked through backdoor Trojans, the main malware used in English-speaking countries and PCs with English set as the dominant language, according to Ronald O'Brien, senior security analyst with Sophos Plc. Once the Trojan has done its work, a third party can operate the computer, using it to send spam to other computers without the user's knowledge, scan for passwords, install keystroke-logging software or await commands from its master.

Botnets comprise the primary source of spam, says O'Brien.

Paul Wood of MessageLabs says that the hackers behind the botnets are working to make botnets more robust. Now when anti-spam software interrupts communication in the botnet, the botnet no longer dies, necessarily. The con artist simply sends a new channel to one computer, which then shares it with the other computers using peer-to-peer technology.

David Marcus, security research and communications manager for McAfee Avert Labs, expects botnets to increase in volume in 2007.

Bot programs can perform automated tasks on users' computers without their knowledge. While anti-spyware software can clean bot software, in the meantime it can scan for passwords, search browsing history, capture keystrokes, send spam and report data back to a third party across the Internet.
Here is an example of what the bot file itself looks like in memory. The seemingly random words are actually part of a username and password list.

What you can do: Keep your anti-virus software running and up to date. Marcus says that running daily anti-virus scans should detect and clean any bot software residing on your computer.

6 types of Internet scams on the prowl:
Attacks using Web 2.0 sites will increase.
Malware will spread through instant messaging.
Volume of image spam will rise.
Phishing e-mails getting more sophisticated, targeted.
Botnets will grow in popularity among cybercriminals.
Phone threats will soon strike.
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-- Posted: Feb. 22, 2007
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